Ward quietly speaks volumes

On, off field, Steelers receiver lets his talent do his talking

Pro Football

November 17, 2005|By BILL ORDINE | BILL ORDINE,SUN REPORTER

What a difference an attitude makes.

Going into the current NFL season, Pro Bowl receivers Hines Ward of the Steelers and Terrell Owens of the Eagles both sought new contracts. Owens incessantly sniped at his team; Ward stayed out of training camp.

In the end, Owens and his agent talked the wide-out into NFL limbo with their carping and botched mea culpa. Meanwhile, Ward - ever the team player even in a contract tussle - reported to camp in a gesture of goodwill, apologized to his teammates for missing two weeks of preseason, and went on to sign a five-year, $27.5 million deal.

"For me, I didn't want to make it a media circus," said Ward who will lead the 7-2 Steelers into M&T Bank Stadium on Sunday to play the 2-7 Ravens. "I just wanted to state my case and really just stay away from everything. [I] just let my agent and the front office ... try to come up with a solution. I just tried to stay out the limelight and the media attention."

The approach was typical for Ward who, over the course of eight seasons, has quietly assembled what could be a solid resume for enshrinement in Canton. Last week in a win over the Cleveland Browns, he passed Hall of Famer John Stallworth as the Steelers' all-time leader in receptions.

Ward now has 543 career catches for 6,603 yards and 47 touchdowns. But he has earned the respect of his peers not just for the numbers but for how he has competed, running routes fearlessly over the middle and blocking tenaciously downfield.

"I play the game the way it is supposed to be played," he said. "I have learned early in my career that nobody is going to take it light on me as I go across that middle. Somebody is always going to try to knock my head off. Up until that point, I am going to try to do everything that I can to beat up on you physically, because I know when you get the chance on me, you are going to try to knock the [heck] out of me."

Ward's physical approach has made him the perfect adversary for the Ravens' traditionally rugged secondary. In 15 games against Baltimore, he has 61 catches for 757 yards and six touchdowns, including eight receptions for 75 yards in a 20-19 Pittsburgh win at Heinz Field on Halloween night.

"We are the only ones in the division to win the AFC North since the new teams were aligned in the division," Hines said of the two clubs. "There is a little pride factor that comes along with that. Despite [the Ravens'] record, we know that they are going to come out and play well because it's Pittsburgh, and we will do the same because it is Baltimore."

In fairness, the circumstances facing Ward and Owens in their contract battles were not completely analogous. Both wanted to redo their respective deals before the current one had expired, but the Steelers star was in the last year of a long-term contract that had him woefully underpaid. Owens had just signed a whopper of a contract in 2004 and already wanted a new one.

"They were very, very distinctly different situations," Steelers coach Bill Cowher said. "But, they are distinctly different people."

While Owens managed to get himself suspended in camp for arguing with coach Andy Reid and ripped quarterback Donovan McNabb, Ward was getting ringing endorsements from Cowher and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger during the holdout.

"Certainly, there were some frustrating times, and I think the biggest thing is we got it behind us," Cowher said. "I think both sides ended up being very happy and [Ward is] at a place where he can finish his career, which is so unusual in today's NFL, where you have a premier player who is able to start and finish with the same team. ... Even the other day, he passed John Stallworth for career catches. I think all those things are why he will always be remembered, as he should be, as a Pittsburgh Steeler."

bill.ordine@baltsun.com

Steelers@Ravens Sunday, 1 p.m., Ch. 13, 1300 AM, 102.7 FM Line: Off the board

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